Anxiety - when calming down is not a option

Photo by Pixland/Pixland / Getty Images

Did you know that anxiety disorders are thought to affect almost three times the number of people suffering with major depression?  Considering that 350 million people globally are suffering from depression, that makes for a lot of people!  However, anxiety disorders are generally under-recognised, and can be mis-diagnosed, as they frequently co-occur with depressive disorders, substance abuse or in people with multiple disorders.

We all have worries in life, but if you have experienced the effects of a sustained episode of anxiousness, then you will know the difference between anxiety and worrying.  Worrying can come about because of a particular situation, but if you have generalised anxiety disorder, you feel anxious excessively and often, and not necessarily as a result of a particular situation 

Stress reduction is possible, when you target certain nutrients in your diet.

Geelong Nutritionist Adrian Stone from Living Holistic Health explains this in more detail.

 

Causes of Anxiety

Your anxiety may result from medications or drugs, medical conditions, or specific life situations. It's been recently discovered that genetic polymorphisms, (like MTHFR), or our brain chemical factors may play a role, possibly along with behavioural and developmental factors.  Your gut health could be causing your anxiety also, as a recent study of Australian IBS sufferers found that 47% of IBS patients met the screening criteria for an anxiety diagnosis.  If you have any issues with consistently low blood sugar control, (known as hypoglycemia), this can also be a trigger for anxiety. 

MTHFR is an area of genetic research showing links to many aspects of health.

Stress, anxiety, depression, infertility, and hormone imbalances are just some of the areas investigated. MTHFR genetic issues can be greatly helped with nutrition.

Geelong Nutritionist Adrian Stone from Living Holistic Health talks more on this.

 

Your brain is shrinking

Whatever the cause, the effect of anxiety on the brain, causes the brain to change from its usual shape. Excessive stress causes the release of excess glutamate, (a brain chemical), which then kills brain connections, forcing the brain to remodel. You can see the effects below.

 Certain brain nerve cells, (called dendrities), actually shrink in size when exposed to too much glutamate.  You can see the changes from A (no glutamate exposure), to B (after too much glutamate exposure) of these dendrities.  It's a bit like a tree shedding its leaves in autumn.  This is happening in a part of your brain, called the hippocampus.

Certain brain nerve cells, (called dendrities), actually shrink in size when exposed to too much glutamate.  You can see the changes from A (no glutamate exposure), to B (after too much glutamate exposure) of these dendrities.  It's a bit like a tree shedding its leaves in autumn.  This is happening in a part of your brain, called the hippocampus.

This "brain-shrinkage" occurs most prominently in a part of your emotional brain called the hippocampus.  This part of your brain is responsible for happiness and decision making, particularly around emotional memory.  As your hippocampus shrinks, another part of your emotional brain grows larger, called the amygdala.  Your amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for fear and worry. 

So, when you are consistently over-stressed and anxious, your hippocampus is shrinking, and your amygdala is growing.  The 'happiness and decision-making' part of your brain is smaller and less dominant, and the 'fear and worrying' part of your brain is larger and is in charge of your thoughts.  And that's what we mean by 'brain remodelling'.  You can see a diagram of this effect below.

 The right hand part of the diagram shows a 'normal' brain, and the left hand part is of an 'over-stressed and anxious' brain.  The left hand side is "Neurotoxic" - too much Glutamate (an excitatory brain chemical), too much inflammation, challenging life events and loneliness.  The right hand side is "Neurotrophic", (balanced), with good levels of GABA ,(calming brain chemical), micronutrients, social networks, energised cells, and sense of meaning and purpose. You can also see the size difference between the Amygdala and the Hippocampus.

The right hand part of the diagram shows a 'normal' brain, and the left hand part is of an 'over-stressed and anxious' brain.  The left hand side is "Neurotoxic" - too much Glutamate (an excitatory brain chemical), too much inflammation, challenging life events and loneliness.  The right hand side is "Neurotrophic", (balanced), with good levels of GABA ,(calming brain chemical), micronutrients, social networks, energised cells, and sense of meaning and purpose. You can also see the size difference between the Amygdala and the Hippocampus.

lactic acid

Studies have also confirmed that a significant biochemical disturbance noted in people with anxiety and panic attacks is an elevated blood lactic acid level and an increased ratio of lactic acid to pyruvic acid. Lactate (the soluble form of lactic acid) is the final end product of the breakdown of glucose when there is lack of oxygen. It appears that individuals with anxiety are sensitive to lactate and this may be causing their anxiety. Therefore, reducing lactate is an important goal in the treatment of anxiety and panic attacks.

 

Anxiety - signs and symptoms

You may be familiar with some of the below;

  • Muscle tension, often leads to headaches, back pains, and muscle spasms
  • Tachycardia, throbbing or stabbing pains
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Feeling of tightness or inability to take in enough air
  • Dyspnoea (difficult breathing)
  • Dizziness/near-syncope (fainting)
  • Palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired concentration
  • Irritability
  • Excessive worry/sense of impending doom/difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Sighing respiration or hyperventilation
  • Sleep disturbances; insomnia, constant waking in the night
  • Constant need to urinate or defecate
  • Severe anxiety will often produce panic attacks — intense feelings of fear 
 Being in a constant state of stress and anxiety, called "Fight/Flight", causes many changes in your body from increased blood sugar & adrenaline, as well as lowered immunity and poor digestion.  The goal to fix your anxiety is to promote the "Rest & Digest" response in your body more often, to counteract the effects of constant stress. 

Being in a constant state of stress and anxiety, called "Fight/Flight", causes many changes in your body from increased blood sugar & adrenaline, as well as lowered immunity and poor digestion.  The goal to fix your anxiety is to promote the "Rest & Digest" response in your body more often, to counteract the effects of constant stress. 

 

naturopathic and nutritional medicine treatment options for anxiety

Depending on the underlying cause of your anxiety, (which would need to be addressed first, eg gut bacteria levels), a naturopathic and nutrition program for your anxiety needs to focus on two key areas;

  1. Reducing the amount of toxic brain chemicals, (glutamate), in your system and
  2. Reducing your blood lactic acid levels

In doing so, we can reverse some of that neurotoxic brain shrinkage, and help promote your neurotrophic healthy brain growth.

Nutrition can play a key role in preventing increased lactic acid levels. There are at least six nutritional factors responsible for increased lactate levels, these include:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • sugar
  • deficiency of the B vitamins; niacin, pyridoxine, and thiamine especially
  • calcium and magnesium deficiency  
  • food allergens

Magnesium - magnesium needs to be top of your nutrient shopping list!  If you are anxious, you are magnesium deficient, it's that simple.  A good quality magnesium supplement will do two things;

  1. It won't send you to the toilet, like the poor quality ones do, (beware of magnesium oxide formulas!), and,
  2. It will reduce the amount of glutamate in between your brain cells, (called the synaptic cleft).  To show you how this works, check out the diagram below.

In this diagram, magnesium (Mg2+) is blocking Glutamate from docking on the NMDA receptors on a nerve cell.  This reduces the strength of the glutamate signal, and "calms down" the signalling between nerve cells, (remember that glutamate "excites" nerve signalling).

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: – anxiety and depression appear to be linked to lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Anxiety and depression appear to enhance the production of pro-inflammatory brain chemicals which not only promote inflammation but also affect mood. Salmon, walnuts, flaxseed oil, and grass fed meat are great sources of Omega-3's.

B-Vitamin Complex - a high strength mix of B-Vitamins will help feed your brain growth.  The more anxious you are, the more B-Vitamins you need.  Often getting a formula with activated-B vitamins will help get more B's into you faster, and get you feeling less anxious also. The type of B Vitamin formula you need will be determined by how well your methylation cycle is performing, and this should be evaluated by your healthcare practitioner.  

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) - Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS).  Supplementation with GABA may be beneficial as a natural anxiolytic and antidepressant with the ability to induce relaxation and restful sleep.  However it can have the reverse effect, and actually make your anxiety worse, (especially if your methylation cycle is not functioning properly), so it should be taken under supervision of your healthcare practitioner.

Kava-kavaAccording to a systematic review by Australian National University (ANU) researchers, exercise, relaxation training and the pepper plant kava are the most effective complementary treatment options for generalised anxiety.   As a word of caution, there have been reports of serious liver damage or death in people using kava. It is not clear if these problems occurred at high doses or after long-term use. Therefore, kava should only be used under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider. Kava should never be taken at doses higher than recommended, or for longer than two months. Kava should be avoided in people with liver disease, Parkinson's disease, or lung disease; in pregnant or breastfeeding women; and in children. It should not be used in people taking anti-depressants, barbiturates, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines or drugs that may damage the liver or cause drowsiness.

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)  - for anxiety associated with depression.  It needs to be taken with caution, and under supervision, as it can affect levels of other medications, (if you are taking any).

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) - for anxiety with insomnia.

Oatstraw (Avena sativa)  - nourishes the nervous system.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)  - for anxiety with depression and heart palpitations.  If you do have heart palpitations, please make sure you have this checked out first by a GP.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)  - for nervous exhaustion and restoring the nervous system.  Lavender oil can work really well, but if you get hayfever, just make sure you aren't allergic to it!

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)  - can relax and revitalize the nervous system. 

 

Safety warning - please note

As with any health advice from the internet, (or anywhere else), please make sure you follow the advice of your health care professional primarily.   If you would like to try any of the options listed above, please talk to your healthcare practitioner, (including us), about this first.  We have seen so many clients come through our clinic, who have tried to self medicate with natural therapies, and have gotten into worse problems, or have not received any benefits.   There are plenty of cheap, dodgy supplements on the market these days, so please be wary as cheaper is definitely not better!

 

SOUNDS GREAT, NOW HOW CAN I IMPLEMENT THIS?

You can hopefully get some take away points from this information, but if you need further assistance, then we are here to help you. Seeing a qualified practitioner can take the guess work out of the equation for you, saving you time and money in the long run, and get you feeling better much faster.

You will get the benefit of our skills and expertise to correctly identify the best nutritional treatment options for you.  You will be prescribed only the best quality herbs and nutrients, which means that you know that you are taking only the nutrients that you really need, and that they are the best quality available. 

With guidance from us and these simple tips, you can become less anxious – strengthening your mind and your body to become more resilient to the effects of everyday stress, and be a calmer, happier person.

Would you like some further assistance?  Please drop us a line below, and we will be in contact shortly.

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